If you have, like me, been skiing or snowboarding for more years than you care to admit you’ll be aware that the experience of visiting a skifield has changed in many ways over the past few years.
The roads are better for one. I remember as a child on family holidays being driven up precarious dirt roads that would have had any self-respecting mountain goat calling OSH. Now most of the big fields are accessed via graded two-lane gravel or sealed roads, which the most modest hire car can tackle (although they are still alpine roads and chains must be carried). The snow is – thanks to snow guns – more predictable. And you can get on that snow a lot more easily as chairlifts have replaced most of the old-school T bars and terrifying rope tows.
For me, the way New Zealand skifields have changed most radically in the past 30-odd years is in their approach to food. When I started skiing, the food on offer tended to be – exclusively – fried. Battered sausages and potato products played a starring role. I have a vivid memory of being on a school ski trip and waiting in lines for ages then scraping my coins together to afford a pottle of hot chips. Well, I say hot. Possibly tepid would be a more accurate description.
“Traditionally the offerings have been a little lacklustre,” NZ Ski’s head of food and beverage Dan Maroszek admits. “Years ago it was all about the fast food offerings and chips. But that’s not what people are looking for or will accept now.”
At NZ Ski’s fields – they operate Coronet Peak and The Remarkables in Queenstown, and Mt Hutt in Canterbury – on the menu is everything from roast meals to kale salads, breakfast burritos to soya flat whites. There’s food on offer for people who are lactose- or gluten-free, or vegetarian or vegan. On a trip this winter we enjoyed hot pizza while night skiing at Coronet Peak (the field is open until 9pm on Friday and Saturday nights), and we stopped for a mulled wine while half-way down the slopes at the on-field Ice Bar at The Remarkables. As a nod to tradition I ate hot chips. They were actually hot.
Maroszek says the changing food offerings reflect the changing expectations of visitors, as well as a change in the kind of visitors that skifields welcome. With a far more culturally diverse clientele (and a marked increase in visitors from Asian countries), he’s catering for a wide range of tastes.
Back in the day, the prices of what was available at the ski field’s cafe or restaurant were higher than what you’d pay off field – and sometimes much higher. Now, Maroszek says, the prices are in line with what you’d pay at a cafe or bistro in town.
“Snow sports aren’t the cheapest hobby at the best of times,” he says. “But we want to make it as accessible as possible, so over the past few years we have focused on our price point so we can provide better value for money.
In the tourist paradise of Queenstown too there are plenty of other ways visitors can spend their time (and money). So ski fields have to make sure what their offering appeals, he says.
“It’s competitive out there,” Maroszek says. “But when you are on holiday you are always thinking about what you are going to have for lunch, then once you have had lunch, you start thinking about what you are going to have for dinner. So we definitely want to offer our visitors great food.”
Maroszek, a chef, says there are particular challenges to catering for the snow trade and one of them is you are dealing with large numbers. Coronet Peak alone can see about 5000 or 6000 visitors a day, and the food and beverage team also feed the kids at the creche and kids’ club, and create meals for staff.
“Last year a single staff member made 30,000 sandwiches over the 100 days of the ski season. Over the two- or three-hour lunch rush we go through 120 litres of soup.”
And, if you are interested, last year his team went through 50,000 kilos of potatoes too.
“To be honest we do still sell a lot of chips,” Maroszek admits.
The writer a guest of NZ Ski.